ⓘ Fentress Architects

Fentress Architects

ⓘ Fentress Architects

Fentress Architects is an international design firm known for iconic large-scale public architecture such as airports, museums, university buildings, convention centers, laboratories, and high-rise office towers. Some of the buildings for which the firm is best known include Denver International Airport, the modernized Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX, the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico, Virginia, and the Green Square Complex in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Founded in 1980 by Curtis W. Fentress, FAIA, RIBA, the firms designs, especially its airports, are often compared to the expressionist architecture of Eero Saarinen. However, architectural curator Donald Albrecht has noted that within Fentress designs is a "stiff dose of regionalism. Fentress Architects has studios in Denver, Colorado, Los Angeles; San Jose, California; Washington DC; London; and Shanghai.

Curtis Fentress was honored in 2010 by the American Institute of Architects AIA Awards website with the highest award for public architecture, the Thomas Jefferson Award. Fentress was also honored with the Silver Medal in 2010, which is the highest award given to an architect from the AIA Western Mountain Region for the contributions made to the region. In 2012, Fentress was awarded AIA Colorados Architect of the Year.

Fentress Architects is the designer of the worlds 4th tallest building completed in 2009, the Arraya Tower in Kuwait City. The tower is also the tallest in Kuwait and the 53rd tallest in the world


1. History

Curtis Fentress graduated with honors from North Carolina State Universitys College of Design, School of Architecture where he received a Bachelor of Architecture degree. Following graduation, he joined the firm of I.M. Pei and Partners in New York City. As a Senior Designer, he was responsible for the master planning of major site development plans. He became a project designer with the New York architectural firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox. During this time, he came to Denver as Project Designer for the Rocky Mountain Headquarters of Amoco in downtown Denver.

In January 1980, Fentress formed C.W. Fentress and Associates with James Henry Bradburn. After a great deal of early success, the collapse of the oil and gas industries in Colorado in the early 1980s ushered in several years of hardship for the firm. Fentress Architects fortunes rebounded in 1987 when the firm won a design competition for the Colorado Convention Center. The competition pitted Fentress and his partners against several better-financed and more famous opponents, including Phil Anschutz, who had partnered with the firm belonging to Curtis Fentress former mentor, I.M. Pei. It was only in the 1990s that Fentress Architects rose to international fame by designing the Denver International Airport. The peaked roof of the terminal has become well known to travelers worldwide and ushered in a revolution in more expressionistic airport design. Curator Donald Albrecht credits the design of Denver International Airport with bringing glamor back to the airport typology.

Unfortunately, the unveiling of DIA was marred by a dysfunctional "state-of-the-art" baggage delivery system the vendor at fault since replaced the system that dominated the media. Subsequently, DIA has been voted the "Best Airport in North America" and the fourth "Favorite American Architecture" completed in the last fifteen years.

In 2001, Fentress designed the Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea, voted "Best Airport Worldwide" four consecutive years by Airport Council Internationals Airport Quality Survey program. Airport Council "Best Airport in the World" in 2007 by passengers surveyed for the Official Airlines Guide. The firm designs a range of large scale projects see listing below from museums and conventions centers to stadiums and commercial office buildings.

Bradburn retired and, in 2007, the firms name was abbreviated from Fentress Bradburn Architects to Fentress Architects. To date, the firm has won 425 design and innovation awards and has a design portfolio of $27 billion. Each year, more than 330 million people worldwide visit a project designed by Fentress Architects.


2. Now Boarding Museum Exhibition

In 2012, a major museum exhibition of Fentress Architects airport designs entitled Now Boarding: Fentress Airports + the Architecture of Flight was opened at the Denver Art Museum. Curated by Donald Albrecht, architectural curator for the Museum of the City of New York whose previous exhibitions include well-received retrospectives on the work of such architectural notables as Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames, Now Boarding ran for nearly three months.

The exhibition is described as the "first ever museum exhibition of airport architecture," and offers visitors a tour through the past, present, and future of air travel while focusing especially on six of Fentress Architects most notable airport designs and their role in defining the modern airport. The exhibition also includes a segment called Airport of the Future that showcases work from a student exhibition as well as theoretical airport designs in the years 2062 and 2162. These theoretical airports, developed by an internal think tank at Fentress Architects consisting of architects, engineers from Stanford University, futurists, and artists, became a popular highlight of the show, and will be exhibited separately from the rest of the exhibition at the A+D Museum in Los Angeles beginning in March 2013.

A travelling version of the exhibition appeared in Amsterdam in November 2012, and the exhibitions full version will open in at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, CA beginning in March 2013.


3. Awards and honors

Highest award for public architecture: Curtis Fentress will be honored in 2010 by the American Institute of Architects AIA Awards website with the highest award for public architecture, the Thomas Jefferson Award. The Jefferson Award recognizes Fentress for "a portfolio of accomplishments that evidences great depth while making a significant contribution to the quality of public architecture." The award is a testament to Fentress vision, design philosophy and excellence in public architecture for the past 40 years. In the last 18 years since the Jefferson Award was first bestowed, only 7 architects have been recognized in the private-sector architect category.

Best Firm to Work For: Fentress ranked as a "Hot Firm" and a "Best Firm to Work For" finalist by ZweigWhite.

Best Managed: Fentress ranked as 1 of only 11 best-managed architecture firms, the "Circle of Excellence," by PSMJ | Resources Inc.

Worlds Best Airports: Fentress-designed Incheon International Airport in Seoul, South Korea was voted "Worlds Best Airport" by Skytraxs 2009 World Airport Awards, a survey of 8.6 million international travelers.

Worlds Most Beautiful Airports:

  • Incheon International Airport

Since its opening in 2001, Incheon, designed by Denvers Fentress Architects, has been a frequent presence at the number one spot on lists of the worlds best airports. Not only is it efficient and welcoming, it is intended to be a showcase of Korean culture. The bow of the roofline emulates a traditional Korean temple, the arrival hallways are lined with 5.000 years of Korean artifacts, and the airports wildly biomorphic train terminal is one of the few places on earth that still looks genuinely futuristic.

  • Denver International Airport

Denvers airport, routinely voted the best airport in North America by business travelers, is beloved for its billowing roofline. The product of a hasty sketch by Denver-based architect Curtis Fentress, who had three short weeks to cook up a design concept, the airport features a Teflon-coated tensile fabric roof - the worlds largest when the airport opened in 1995 - and looks like a village of giant white tepees. The airport is at its most beautiful when you approach by air from the east and see the glowing man-made peaks silhouetted against the Rockies.

Worlds 4th tallest building completed in 2009: Fentress is the designer of the worlds 4th tallest building completed in 2009 - Arraya Tower in Kuwait City, also the tallest in Kuwait. Arraya is one of 14 high rises in Fentress design portfolio in the Persian Gulf.


4. Architectural philosophy

Fentress has developed a design process he calls the "Patient Search". He has said of the process; "I dont begin with a preconceived notion of what the building needs to be – it is not a sculpture. I patiently search, walk the site, study the culture, follow our process until I find a seam somewhere, crack it open and discover the art inside." Asked about his philosophical approach, Fentress once stated, "My philosophy is ultimately. pragmatism".

I dont begin with a preconceived notion of what a building should be – it is not a sculpture. I prefer to patiently search through extensive discovery until I find a seam somewhere, crack it open and discover the art inside.


5. Rankings

  • Architectural Records "Top 150 Architecture Firms" – Fentress Architects ranked #24 among architecture-only firms
  • In 2003, Colorado Construction ranked Fentress Architects as the Top Architectural Firm in Colorado. Fentress ranked #14 in California Constructions "Top Design Firms" in 2005.
  • Engineering News Records "Top Airport Design Firms" – Fentress Architects ranked in top 25 firms
  • Engineering News Records "Top 500 Design Firms" – Fentress Architects ranked #29 among architecture-only firms
  • Building Design & Constructions "Giants 300," Top Architects – Fentress Architects ranked #18 among architecture-only firms

6. Sustainable Design

  • 2003 LEED Gold 2.0 award for Californias Department of Education Headquarters Building, which received Platinum certification in 2006 by the U.S. Green Building Councils Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED rating system. It was featured as a case study in the Fall 2009 issue of High Performing Buildings.
  • More than 60% of Fentress projects under construction or completed in 2009 were LEED certified or pending certification.
  • 1993 Architecture and Energy Award for the Natural Resources Building in Olympia, Washington.
  • About half of the firms design professionals are LEED accredited.

LEED certified projects include, but are not limited to:

  • Green Square Complex - LEED Platinum expected
  • Palazzo Verdi - LEED Gold
  • California Department of Education Headquarters - LEED Platinum
  • Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine - LEED Gold
  • David E. Skaggs Federal Building NOAA
  • Santa Fe Community Convention Center - LEED Gold
  • San Joaquin County Administration Building - LEED Gold
  • UCI Humanities Gateway - LEED Platinum


7. Projects


  • Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Central Terminal Expansion Seattle, Washington, USA
  • Los Angeles International Airport Master Plan and International Terminal, Los Angeles, California, USA LAX Airport website
  • Doha International Airport Tower, Doha, Qatar
  • Incheon International Airport Passenger Terminal, Seoul, South Korea Travel & Leisure
  • Raleigh-Durham International Airport Terminal 2 Redevelopment, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
  • Denver International Airport Main Passenger Terminal, Denver, Colorado, USA Travel & Leisure
  • Sacramento International Airport, Sacramento, California, USA
  • Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport, Terminal B San Jose, California, USA


  • Regional Transportation Center and Flood Control District Headquarters, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • Sacramento City Hall, Sacramento, California, USA
  • Clark County Government Center, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • Ralph L. Carr Judicial Center, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • City of Oakland Administration Buildings, Oakland, California, USA
  • California Department of Education Headquarters, Sacramento, California, USA
  • San Joaquin County Administration Building, Stockton, California, USA
  • Colorado State Capitol Renovations, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Jefferson County Government Center, Golden, Colorado, USA

Commercial Office & Mixed-Use

  • UniSource Energy Tower, Tucson, Arizona, USA
  • 421 Broadway, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • JD Edwards & Co Corporate Campus, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Baitek, Kuwait City, Kuwait
  • Kuwait Business Town, Al Sharq, Kuwait
  • Gulf Canada Resources Limited, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Dubai Mixed-Use Towers, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
  • 1999 Broadway, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Palazzo Verdi Mixed-Use, Greenwood Village, Colorado, USA
  • Arraya Class A Office Tower, Kuwait City, Kuwait -- Worlds 4th tallest building completed in 2009


  • Army Visitor & Education Center, Carlisle, Pennsylvania USA
  • National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Expansion and Renovation, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA
  • National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, Wyoming, USA
  • Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming, USA
  • Museum of Western Art, The Navarre, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Draper National History Museum and Whitney Gallery, Cody, Wyoming, USA
  • National Museum of the Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia, USA
  • Museum of Science, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
  • Green Square Complex, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA


  • Natural Resources Building, Olympia, Washington, USA
  • David E. Skaggs Research Center, Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • UCDHSC, Anschutz Medical Campus, Research Complex II, Aurora, Colorado, USA
  • University of Colorado Denver UCD, Anschutz Medical Campus, Research Complex I, Aurora, Colorado, USA
  • Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, La Jolla, California, USA

Public Assembly

  • Eccles Conference Center and Peerys Egyptian Theatre, Ogden, Utah, USA
  • Palm Springs Convention Center Expansion, Palm Springs, California, USA
  • Pasadena Conference Center Expansion, Pasadena, California USA
  • Colorado Convention Center and Phase II Expansion, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Santa Fe Conference Center, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
  • Arvada Center Expansion, Arvada, Colorado, USA


  • Mathematics Building & Gemmill Engineering Library, University of Colorado at Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • Denver Academy High School, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Tennyson Center for Children, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Humanities Gateway, University of California, Irvine; Irvine, California, USA

Hotel & Residential

  • Tritch Building Renovation into Courtyard by Marriott, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • Palmetto Bay Plantation, Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras
  • Watermark Luxury Residences, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • One Polo Creek, Denver, Colorado, USA
  • One Wynkoop Plaza, Denver, Colorado, USA

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Fentress Architects announce winners of 2020 Global Challenge.

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Fentress Architects @FentressArch Twitter.

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